The story of Aishah bint Abi Bakr – the Prophet’s wife – can be summarized as follows:
According to the available records, she was born in 614 C. E. and she died in 678 C. E. She was the daughter of one of the Prophet’s earliest and strongest followers; Abu Bakr. Later, she became the Prophet’s third wife. After the death of his first wife, Khadijah, Aishah was pre-eminent among his wives. It was quite significant that the Prophet spent his last days in her chamber.
After the reign of Umar ibn Al-Khatab, Aishah was among those who opposed some of the policies of the third caliph, Uthman. Yet, when Ali became a caliph, Aishah demanded that the assassination of Uthman should be avenged. She joined forces with some of the companions of the Prophet and rebelled against Ali ibn Abi Talib, the fourth caliph. Ali defeated her forces during the “Battle of the Camel” and she was captured. Ali treated her graciously and sent her back to Madinah, where she died in 678, after about 20 years.
Muslims honor and respect Aishah, as a transmitter of Hadith (sayings of the Prophet). She is also regarded to be an authority for the interpretation of the Quran. In fact the life of Aishah is a proof that a woman can be far more learned than men and that she can be the teacher of scholars and experts.
Though she was not formally educated, her utterances and legal pronouncements are learned and discussed by scholars of Islam in great centers of learning throughout the world.
Aishah’s father, Abu Bakr, who brought her up, became the first caliph in Islamic history. He was the closest friend to the noble Prophet, from the very beginning of his mission.
In her youth, Aishah was known for her extraordinary power of memory. Later, as the Prophet’s wife and close companion, she acquired from him knowledge and insight such as no woman has ever acquired.
There is a controversy about the age of Aishah, at the time of her marriage. Most likely, that she was younger than ten years at that time. But the actual wedding did not take place until the second year after the migration to Madinah, when she was about fourteen or fifteen years old.
After her marriage she did not seem at all overawed by the idea of being wedded to the “Messenger of God”, whom all his companions, including her father, treated with such love and reverence as they gave to no one else.
It was always clear that among all of the Prophet’s wives, Aishah was the one he loved most. Once she asked him: “How is your love for me?” He replied: “Like the rope’s knot,” meaning that it was strong and secure. Then from time to time thereafter, she would ask him: “How is the knot?” and he would reply: in the same condition.
Later, Aishah used to say: “I was not jealous from any of the other Prophet’s wives, as I was jealous from Khadijah. That is because of his constant mentioning of her and because God had commanded him to give her good tidings of a mansion in Paradise of precious stones. And whenever he sacrificed a sheep he would send a fair portion of it to those who had been her intimate friends. Many a time I said to him: It is as if there had never been any other woman in the world except Khadijah!”
Aishah was a very generous and considerate woman. She bore poverty and hunger with the Prophet, along with the rest of his household. That was even when this lasted for long periods. For many days, nothing would be there in the house for cooking. Still, she would live merely on dates and water, along with the rest of the household. Poverty did not cause her distress nor did sufficiency corrupt her soul.
When Muslims were favored with enormous riches, Aishah was given a gift of one hundred thousand dirhams (a unit of currency). She was fasting when she received the money and she distributed the entire amount to the poor and the needy even though she had no provisions in her house. Shortly after, a maidservant asked her: “Could you buy meat for a dirham with which to break your fast?” She said: “If I had remembered, I would have done so.”
The Prophet’s affection for Aishah remained till the very end. During his final illness, it was to Aishah’s apartment that he went at the suggestion of his wives. She was actually the one who preserved for us the dying moments of God’s beloved Messenger, may He shower His choicest blessings on him. The Seal of the Prophets was buried, under the ground of her room, amid much bewilderment and great sorrow.
Aishah lived almost fifty years after the passing away of the Prophet. She had been his wife for a decade. Much of this time was spent in learning and acquiring knowledge of the two most important sources of God’s guidance, the Quran and the Sunnah. Aishah was one of three wives (the other two being Hafsah and Umm Salamah) who memorized the revelation.
So far as Hadith is concerned, Aishah is one of the four persons (the others being Abu Hurairah, Abdullah ibn Umar, and Anas ibn Malik) who transmitted more than two thousand sayings. Many of these pertain to some of the most intimate aspects of personal behavior, which only someone in Aishah’s position could have learnt.
What is most important is that her knowledge of Hadith was passed on in written form by at least three persons including her nephew Urwah, who became one of the greatest scholars among the generation after the Companions.
Many of the learned companions of the Prophet and their followers benefited from Aishah’s knowledge. Abu Musa Al-Ashari once said: “If we companions of the Messenger of God had any difficulty on a matter, we asked Aishah about it.”
Her nephew Urwah asserts that she was proficient not only in fiqh (Islamic legal rulings), but also in medicine and poetry. Many of the senior companions of the Prophet came to her to ask for advice concerning questions of inheritance, which required a highly skilled mathematical mind.
Scholars regard her as one of the earliest legal scholars of Islam, along with persons like Umar ibn Al-Khattab, Ali and Abdullah ibn Abbas. It was famously said about Aishah : “Learn a portion of your religion from this red colored lady.” “Humayra ” meaning “red-colored” was a description given to Aishah by the Prophet.
Aishah not only possessed great knowledge, but she took an active part in education and social reform. As a teacher she had a clear and persuasive manner of speech. Her power of oratory has been described in superlative terms by al-Ahnaf who said: “I have heard speeches of Abu Bakr and Umar, Uthman and Ali and the Caliphs up to this day, but I have not heard speech more persuasive and more beautiful from the mouth of any person than from the mouth of Aishah.”
Men and women came from far and wide to benefit from her knowledge. The number of women is said to have been greater than that of men. Besides answering enquiries, she took boys and girls, some of them orphans, into her custody and trained them under her care and guidance. This was in addition to her relatives who received instruction from her. Her house thus became both, a school and an academy.
Some of her students were outstanding. I have already mentioned her nephew, Urwah, as a distinguished reporter of Hadith. Among her women pupils is the name of Umrah bint Abdul-Rahman. She is regarded by scholars as one of the trustworthy narrators of Hadith and is said to have acted as Aishah’s secretary, receiving and replying to letters addressed to her.
The example of Aishah in promoting education and in particular the education of Muslim women in the laws and teachings of Islam, is one, which needs to be followed.
For the strength of her personality, Aishah was a leader in every field in knowledge, in society, in politics and in war. She lived long enough to maintain a position as the most respected woman of her time. She died in the year 58 AH in the month of Ramadan